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Strawberry Fields: A Novel Hardcover – August 16, 2007

3.8 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

U.K.-based Lewycka, a Booker and Orange Prize nominee for 2005's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, follows up with a Chaucer-inspired tale of migrant workers trapped at global capital's thuggish bottom. After being helped into England by men like Vulk, an armed, lecherous creep of indeterminate former east bloc origins, a disparate group of strawberry pickers begins a pilgrimage-like search for labor across the countryside after their philandering boss is run over and crippled by his wife. Among them are two Ukrainians: Irina, a naïve teenager from Kiev, and Andriy, a former coal miner. After a brief stop in Canterbury, the workers—from Malawi, China, Malaysia and elsewhere—arrive in Dover with their loyal dog. There, they unexpectedly meet shady recruitment consultant Vitaly, who promises jobs in the dynamic resurgence of the poultry industry. The plot moves slowly, and things get worse for the group. Lewycka doesn't have a perfect command of all the cultures she aims to represent, making some of her satires broad and unfunny. There are, however, captivating scenes (some not for the squeamish), and many of the characters are complex and multifaceted, Irina and Andriy in particular. As a send up of capitalism's grip on the global everyman, Lewycka's ensemble novel complements Gary Shteyngart's Absurdistan. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

This affectionate follow-up to Lewycka’s début novel (about a Ukrainian family assimilating to contemporary Britain) plays out similar themes of immigrant struggle on a broader scale. A cast of itinerant characters realize that picking strawberries in Kent is more lucrative than white-collar jobs in their homelands, and narrate their journeys in the spirit of Chaucer’s pilgrims. Among them are a domineering Polish woman and her mild-mannered niece; a seventeen-year-old Malawian whose innocence is in inverse proportion to the tragedies of his past; two giggly but intellectual Chinese girls; and a pair of antagonistic Ukrainians (she the educated daughter of a professor, he the pragmatic son of a miner). Lewycka’s stylistic quirks can sometimes fall flat—a dog with Disney-like abilities to rescue characters gets a recurrent speaking role—but the jostle of voices creates an effervescent comedy, beneath which lies a more sombre look at the costs of globalization.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; First Edition edition (August 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594201374
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594201370
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #247,675 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
it doesn't matter much to me
Let me take you down, 'cos I'm going to Strawberry Fields

I approached Marina Lewycka's "Strawberry Fields" with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Lewycka's first novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian, was a first-rate farce, a brilliant book. Second novels are challenging, both for the author and for the reader. The author is challenged to live up to the promise of her first work. The reader is challenged by virtue of his own heightened expectation and anticipation that the second work will match the qualities of the first novel. Happily, Lewycka was up to the task and "Strawberry Fields" was a funny, satisfying book to read.

The title refers to the strawberry fields found in Kent, England which during the summer are populated by migrant agricultural workers from Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia. The story opens with the arrival of a new worker, Irina, in a strawberry field in Kent, England. Irina is a young girl straight off the bus from Kiev. She is teamed up with a motley group of workers from Poland (Yola, Tomasz, and Marta), Ukraine (Andriy), Malawi (Emanuel), and China (known to the crew only as Chinese Girls One and Two). The field has two trailers for the crew to sleep in - one for the women and one for the men. (The book's title in the UK is "Two Caravans).

Life for migrant agricultural workers in England is no picnic but Irina and her fellow workers form a familial bond - one that is quirky and dysfunctional but very touching and well-drawn.
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Format: Hardcover
Following her success after the first novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Lewycka treats her readers to yet another delightful story - this time about Eastern European immigrants picking strawberries, and then some. The plot draws you in, and the reader is kept continuously engaged as each of the characters - Andriy, Irina, Yola, Tomasz, Emanuel, Dog and others - narrates the story from their personal point of view.

The novel's strengths are numerous. Take for example its characters who are very diverse and at times completely incompatible. Thus Yola (from Zdroj, Lonely Planet Poland) cannot stand Tomasz who is trying his best to impress her through his off-key singing; stealing the underwear does not help poor "Tomek" either. Irina, a history professor's daughter from Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine dismisses the attention of Andriy, the hard-working son of a miner from Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine. That she's from the "Orange" camp and he's from the "Blue and White" ( Ukraine's Orange Revolution) makes the relationship even more charged. The characters' nationalities range from Ukrainians and Poles to Malawians and Chinese, from Romanians and Slovaks to Bulgarians and Moldovans, and others.

Another strength of Lewycka's writing is her unique style.
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Format: Hardcover
Before I read this book I was told it was "very funny". That is not true according to my understanding of fun. However it changes something fundamental within you and changes your outlook on humanity, as pertaining to the large picture of life, and illegal immigrants regarding to a narrower view. The book gives good insight into the lives of people who look for a better life in the west with a naive belief in its riches and benevolence while being not so terrifying, depressing and violent that one is depressed for a week after reading.
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Format: Paperback
Marina Lewycka continues to mine the seam she opened up in A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, of immigrants (mainly from Eastern Europe, but also some from China and Africa) coming to Britain - this time to earn money picking strawberries, working on a chicken farm, in a restaurant etc. The book shows how these immigrant workers are exploited: passports confiscated by the crooked and violent agents (Eastern European themselves), miserable wages, diminished by extortionate deductions for all sorts of things, including for the rent of the most awful accommodation. Very often migrant workers also cheat compatriots who trust them, and the prejudices that citizens of one East European country have for those of a neighbouring country are also well brought out. Illegal migrants from outside the EU who pretend to be legal immigrants from EU countries (e.g. Brazilians claiming to be Portuguese) are particularly vulnerable, as the gang masters well know. There is a horrific description of the way chickens are treated in battery farms.

As in Tractors, the sombre nature of their ordeals is `lightened' by humour, though I didn't think the book was nearly as funny as the earlier book. There is again the hilariously fractured English spoken by some of the immigrants, though one of the girls, Irina, speaks remarkably good English. (She is the only character whose story is told in the first person.) The book focuses in turn on eight particular workers (and, very tediously, on the thoughts of a dog who follows them around), but the characterization is fairly shallow, certainly compared with the richness of the four central characters in Tractors.
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